While telling your UX story during an interview, you will be asked questions. Most of these may be “no correct answer” type questions. Not necessarily brain teasers or puzzles, but very open-ended. Why do UX Managers (and other interviewers for UX roles) ask overly broad, hyper-detailed or just seemingly random questions? What are some strategies for answering them?
- Why Hiring Managers Ask Open Ended Questions
- 10 Sample UX Interview Questions
- Interview Strategies
- What I Look For In An Interview
- Make Good Art
- Best UX Design Career and Interview Advice
Why Hiring Managers Ask Open Ended Questions
Just like any reviewer in any interview process, hiring managers are trying to see how you think. Not just how you approach a task, but how you REALLY think. In the case of User Experience, this also means how well you can think like others.
Every company has their own unique approach to interviewing, especially in the tech industry. One of the most common approaches is an emphasis on open-ended “No Correct Answer” Questions. There are a number of reasons why; from determining how well you think on the spot to verifying your abilities match your resume.
In most cases, though, hiring managers are looking for “the right fit.” Sometimes this is the right project at the right time. In other cases, a manager may want someone to fill a particular consistent gap in the team’s skillset. Any way you describe it, the next person joining the team must meet the needs of the project, product and organization going forward.
10 Sample UX Interview Questions
Here are some very open ended questions that Patrick Neeman and I pulled together for our UX Careers Presentation. If you are looking for stock answers, you are missing the point. Think about how you would uniquely answer these questions.
“Tell me about a project you worked on…”
While not phrased as a question here… this is effectively asking: “What was the process?” You should be able to answer this question specifically for any project on your resume or portfolio. This is a great setup for your story and the chance to show you are results driven.
“How do you know you are on the right path?”
This line of questioning is asking about key decision and inflection points in a project. This is your cue to outline research, expose any guerrilla user testing, walk through persona generation and anything else that leads to the targeting and performance of key metrics.
“Who’s the most important person in the process? Why?”
If you are not expecting it, this question can be pure evil… Go ahead and take a moment to stop and think who is asking the question and be prepared to defend your answer. Its very likely someone who is not in the room in with you.
“What is the most important thing on this page/wireframe? Why?”
A personal favorite from Usability Counts. The hiring manager wants to understand you can prioritize information on the page or flow. Personally, I tend to come at this more in the form of “What is the one thing you want users to do from here?”
“How do you define done?”
Just like “What is good design?”, this is a question with far ranging answers. Take this opportunity to define what your best project had (or should have had): user story completion, user adoption, metrics, “It’s never done.”, etc.
“When < insert role here > says, “Hey, I don’t like this design”, what do you do?”
This question should be expected, so have your answer ready to tailor specifically to the audience. Take this as an opportunity to show how you would explain User Experience to non-UXers and work on a team with a common goal.
“Given a situation where there’s not enough time to research, what do you do?”
Similar to above… this should be a very expected question, particularly if you have deep research experience. Talk about how you can help shave time on the schedule and the company money in the long run without omitting it entirely.
“What is the one project that you want me to remember and why?”
I often ask these “What is the one…” questions as exercises in prioritization, messaging, branding and the ability to put yourself in another’s perspective. Can you succinctly distill down what you have to offer?
“How would you design an ATM?”
These and other random questions about designing or redesigning are exercises in not telling, but showing your thought process. Engage the interviewer, sketch on some post-its, use the whiteboard and collaborate as you would on a real project.
“What question do you wish I would ask?”
I ask this question to see how much you have prepared and help me understand your perspective in the interview process. Offbeat questions like this need an answer and its awkward if you don’t have one.
No one can know every potential question during an interview process. There are however ways to be better prepared, understand the situation and have options at the ready. The best strategy is practice and experience.
You Will Be Googled
When it comes time to meet, expect that there has been some research done about you. It could be anything from personal references on LinkedIn to reverse directory lookups based on public information. The best tactic is decide how YOU want to represent yourself and cultivate that in the world. A deliberate social footprint is much better than non-existent or the extreme of too much information.
Who Are You Interviewing With?
In order to tailor your responses to the audience, understand who is interviewing you. At the very least, have a general sense of their role – Engineer, Product Manager or fellow UX Designer. Even better, get the names of your interviewers in advance and do your own research on LinkedIn or reverse directories.
Have a conversation
The less you talk, the better. Get your interviewer to tell you about their problems. When asked for a solution, ask back “Who are the users?” and “What is their mental model?” to start a dialog. List your assumptions and engage with an interviewer as you would a co-worker. Often times, answering the simple question requires answering other questions first.
Be Like Dora
Yes, I am suggesting you think a bit more like the pre-school Nick Jr. cartoon. When encountering a challenge each episode, Dora tells herself “Let’s stop and think…” When you are asked a question during an interview, remind yourself to take a moment to stop and think. Dora is also very prepared with a backpack full of things she might need. Do the same by preparing for questions you KNOW are going to come up.
Stick To Your Story
This is not license to rigidly stick “to the script”, but encouragement to learn how to pick up a story again. If your story is interrupted by a question, get to the point that answers their concerns by telling or showing them how. Good stories and storytellers anticipate questions and answer them as the audience has them.
What I Look For In An Interview
Every company, role and situation is different. I asked fellow UX hiring managers what they are really looking for. What do I look for in an interview? Personally, I think of myself as a manager of sports team looking for the right chemistry and combination of “players” to execute. To help assemble the right team, I am typically trying to answer three things during an interview:
Is This Person The Real Deal?
I need to get a sense the resume, portfolio or reputation matches what I am hearing. This not a cross-examination, it is about trust. I don’t know exactly what it will take sometimes to determine I am engaging with someone genuine or too good to be true. It simply takes time to discern whether someone may have made a simple over-exaggeration, intended to misdirect or can’t disclose information based on an NDA.
Does This Person Care?
Are they passionate about the customer and their experience? Do they want to add value to the product, company and lives of users? All of this matters, but it means nothing if they simply don’t care enough to show up and work. Identifying this is really important because as a manager, I can’t make someone care.
Is This Someone I Want to Work With?
We often spend more time with our co-workers then our own families. This is a point that I never forgot in my experience working with the fine folks at Plexipixel. At the end of the day, I would rather spend my time on a partnership, not in unproductive clashes. In a broader sense, you can expand this notion to a team personality or company cultural fit.
Make Good Art
I mentioned everyone is different, but what I am looking to answer during the interview is very similar to others. Patrick Neeman at Usability Counts is asking himself: Does this person do good work, show up on time and are they personable?
Neil Gaiman, in his “Make Good Art” speech, agrees and even takes it a step further:
People keep working, in a freelance world, and more and more of today’s world is freelance, because their work is good, and because they are easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three. Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. They’ll forgive the lateness of the work if it’s good, and if they like you. And you don’t have to be as good as the others if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.”
We are all candidates at some point… so I personally still try to shoot for all three. ^_^
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